During this challenging period of COVID-19
By Tan Shiau Tse, TCM Physician, Heritage TCM Clinic
Healthy lungs are vital for our overall health and during this challenging period of COVID-19, being more mindful about caring for our lungs goes a long way in staying well.
In TCM, the lungs are seen as a boundary between the world inside and outside of our body. Our inner body needs to be protected against external pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, and a healthy lung with abundant ‘qi’ helps in the defense against such harm.
“Qi” is the vital energy of a person that circulates throughout the body, and breathing is the first source of ‘qi’, which is why the health of lungs are critical.
How do we strengthen our lungs as a preventive measure, especially during these times when respiratory illnesses such as cold, flu and coronaviruses are prevalent? We can start with something as simple as herbal tea made with commonly available ingredients, to strengthen your respiratory system. A cup of herbal tea can be a healthy and thirst-quenching alternative to caffeinated drinks, and they are just as easy to make in the comfort of your home.
For those who smoke, drink, sleep late, or get “heaty” easily, American Ginseng (洋参) Tea is a recommended choice. “Heatiness” refers to a state of too much “heat” inside the body, and common symptoms of “heatiness” are mouth ulcers, sore throat, cough with sticky phlegm, acne, excessive thirst, redness of the skin, chapped lips, and irritability.
American Ginseng is cooling in nature, nourishing and moisturizing to the lungs, and can be consumed simply by adding boiling water to the 2 to 5 dried slices in a cup. For variety and an extra immunity boost, an optional teaspoon of goji berries (also known as wolfberries) can be added. Steep it for a few minutes before drinking. The slices are good for another 2 or 3 refills. After drinking the tea, the softened ginseng slices can be chewed and eaten as well.
Astragalus (黄芪) is a Chinese herb commonly used for strengthening the immune system and warding off infections. It is said to be helpful to those who succumb to cold and flu easily, who tend to sweat too much or not enough. The Astraglus tea balances ‘qi’ and improve immunity and is suitable for those who have a tendency to be afraid of wind and chill, but not suitable for those who gets “heaty” easily.
Add boiling water to about 6g of astragalus cut into small pieces, 2 to 3 pieces of dried red dates and 1 teaspoon of goji berry for a cup of astragalus tea. You can also boil the ingredients for 15 to 20 minutes for more flavor and potency. Red dates (also known as jujubes) replenish and nourish ‘qi’ and blood. Steep and drink 2 to 3 times until the tea loses its flavor. The red dates and goji berries can be eaten thereafter but discard the astragalus.
Chrysanthemum tea is well known for its heat and inflammation relieving properties. Simply add some hot water to dried chrysanthemum flowers placed in a tea bag, allow it to steep for a few minutes until you see the water turn light golden yellow before drinking. The tea has a light floral aroma with gentle and soothing sweetness.
Luo Han Guo
Luo Han Guo or monk’s fruit tea is a naturally sweet drink suitable for the whole family. With its cough and sore throat relieving properties, anti-inflammatory properties, and zero calorie sweet taste safe for diabetics, it is a popular tea for families.
To make Luo Han Guo tea, rinse a fruit thoroughly before cracking the hard shell with your hands. Tear the contents into smaller chunks and either steep in a pot of 1 to 1.5 liter of boiling water for 15 to 30 minutes till the water turns dark brown or simmer it for a fuller flavor.
These are herbs which are widely available, suitable for vegans and easy to consume as tea.
Another prized Chinese herb, Cordyceps, is traditionally treasured for strengthening weak lungs, and its ability to resist bacteria and viruses. It is highly nutritional, boost immunity and often recommended for those with cough due to deficiency or encounter shortness of breath. In the past, Cordyceps are consumed by adding them to soup or congee and boiled for hours. Today, for convenience, it is available in a capsule containing its powdered form, which can be taken with warm water or added to soup or congee.
Besides taking herbs, one of the best ways to support good lung health is to take in fresh air through deep breathing methods, such as taichi, qigong, yoga, pranayama or gentle exercises such as stretching, swimming or walking. These activities expand the physical capacity of the lungs, increases the volume of ‘qi’ within the body, and improves circulation.
A basic principle of Chinese medicine is that everyone’s body constitution is different and is dependent on genetic factors and a person’s lifestyle. The goal will be to achieve a more neutral balance constitution for better immunity and health. We can make better choices about food intake and lifestyle, to find the balance and obtain optimal respiratory health.